Some fandoms transcend geography. That is becoming more of a reality today, since 99 percent of all pro sports (and 100 percent of all NFL games) are available on some kind of TV network, and so if you’re willing to pay (and sometimes you don’t even have to make that commitment), a kid on Long Island can grow up a Memphis Grizzlies fan if he happens to like a certain player, a uniform color or dry-rub barbecue.
(All quality reasons.)
It’s always been an issue in football. A whole generation of kids growing up in the tri-state area in the ’70s turned to the Cowboys, Dolphins and Steelers because they were tired of watching the Jets and the Giants go 3-11 and 4-10 every year.
Sometimes it wasn’t even that complicated. My friend Ian became a Cowboys fan because he liked the star on the helmet. That’s all it took.
And my friend Jim, who is the biggest Rams fan I know (and also only one of two Rams fans I know), chose the Rams because when he was 11 years old he went to a football camp and was a little homesick until future Hall of Fame Rams defensive lineman Merlin Olsen spotted him and made it his mission to cheer him up for a week. That may be one of the best fan stories of all.
This all seemed rather relevant as one of the popular sub-topics at the Super Bowl this week was the poor souls of St. Louis, who were abandoned by the Rams three years ago and on Sunday must watch the Rams represent Los Angeles in the Super Bowl.
Now, few of these stories dived deep enough into the St. Louis consciousness (and conscience, for that matter) to judge whatever guilt they may have felt for stealing the Rams from Los Angeles 20 years earlier, of course. And look, I’m not here to throw a pity party for LA (which had stolen the Rams from Cleveland 40 years before that, among its host of franchise thieveries).
I do remember my father talking often about the 1959 World Series. He wasn’t even a Dodgers fan, having chosen the Yankees as a kid despite growing up in Queens (because of, one, the proliferation of Italian surnames on Yankees rosters in the ’30s and ’40s and, two, because he always was a little smarter about stuff than most).
But he had a lot of friends who were Dodgers fans.
“And it was terrible being around them when the Dodgers won the World Series that year,” he would say. “I mean, they suffered year after year when we were kids, and they got their teeth kicked in by the Yankees every year, and then, a couple of years after they finally win one, they’re gone. And then they win a title in LA in Year 2.”
Now that I think about it, he always did tell that story with a smile.
On Oct. 8, 1959, the day the Dodgers wrapped up that first California championship with a 9-3 win over the White Sox, a 27-year-old New York Times reporter named Gay Talese went to Ebbets Field, which was still standing like a ghost in its Flatbush neighborhood, four months prior to its date with a wrecking ball.
The old yard “was a double-decked tomb of empty seats,” Talese wrote. “Pigeons were eating grass seeds in center field. Gladys Gooding’s organ was silent, the press box was without a cliché, and no cars were in the lot where Don Newcombe once slugged a fan for calling him a ‘yellow-bellied choke-up.’ ”
He found workers watching the game on TV in the maintenance room, and after the game was over they fielded some calls from friends who weren’t quite sure how to feel since rooting for the Dodgers was still a part of their DNA, and that’s hard to shake. The superintendent, Babe Hamberger, told Talese: “Boy, there’d be bedlam here right now if the Dodgers were in Brooklyn.”
Instead he stared out at Abe Stark’s famous old ad on the outfield wall — “Hit Sign, Win Suit” — and at the message board just above it, where it read, “Next Game, Dodgers Vs –—–”
And a fan named Peter Benfary told the young writer: “We were rooting for Furillo and Hodges and Snider. Those other guys — Wills, Demeter and all — we didn’t root for them.”
You know, when the Brothers Porzingis looked across the desk at Scott Perry and Steve Mills, they probably did not see Jerry West and Jerry Krause staring back at them. But, then, Mills and Perry weren’t exactly talking with Bill Russell and Tim Duncan, either.
Even if you are utterly indifferent to Mike Francesa, as I am, Funhouse (aka @BackAftaThis) is about as good a reason to be on Twitter as there is.
I do hope Mike Maccagnan was nice enough to send Mills and Perry a nice thank-you note.
The best basketball coach anywhere near our humble city is Hofstra’s Joe Mihalich.
Whack Back at Vac
Gary Urivetzky: Could either Jeff Wilpon or Steve Mills get similar positions with any other organization in their respective leagues, if they left their present jobs? Methinks not!
Vac: At least you can understand Jeff’s job security, since he shares a surname with the big boss. Anyone who can explain Mills’ bulletproof vest, I’m all ears.
Les Liese: Right on, brother! I am going to watch the Nets, quickly becoming New York’s team!
Vac: Five years from now, we may look back at this week and say it was either a turning point for the Knicks or a turning point for the Nets.
@Jeanette607: A remarkable, heroic life. Thank you for reminding us of Jackie Robinson’s greatness.
@MikeVacc: When you think about what he endured his first five years in the league … I’m not sure there’s ever been another athlete quite like him.
Michael Navarro: We all know a unicorn is a mythical animal. It is also a good portrayal of Porzingis because his skills and reputation are mythical. He has yet to prove to be an NBA-caliber star. He has proven he is good at getting injured and perhaps why he needs to be handled with soft velvet gloves. Goodbye and good riddance to a spoiled brat.
Vac: This is becoming an increasingly popular opinion of the whole matter, as far as I can tell.